Want to Change Your Life? Sarah Sapora Can Help With That
Want to Change Your Life? Sarah Sapora Can Help With That

Interviews

Want to Change Your Life? Sarah Sapora Can Help With That

11 min read

Essential Takeaways

  • After a turning point in her own life that inspired her to carve out a new path emotionally and physically, Sarah Sapora—now a yogi, mentor, and advocate for size-inclusive personal growth—has made it her mission to empower women to take charge of their own futures, no matter who we are.
  • Honesty and self-acceptance are at the core of Sapora's M.O., which scientists endorse as key tenets of resilience and growth. (A 2018 study suggests that when we accept painful emotions (1), we actually tend to heal faster.)
  • In addition to engaging with her ever-growing virtual community, Sapora also hosts workshops on self-love and is writing her first book.

The greatest tool in a woman’s toolbox isn’t a cosmetic or a brush. It’s self-determination—the daily commitment you make to yourself and your future, and the hard work and rituals that create the foundation for that journey. Make Your Self is a series that spotlights the stories of women who fiercely embody this relentless pursuit.


There's a memorable Harvard study that poetically illustrates the power of human thought: After the participants are taught a theoretical piano sequence—that is, invited to imagine themselves playing without ever actually touching any keys—over the course of a week, the muscles in their fingers develop as if they had been practicing on the instrument itself (2).

It's a poignant reminder that when we're faced with a new challenge or learning opportunity, mindset really is everything. Which is a worthy segué into the work of Sarah Sapora, who has spent the most recent years of her life teaching workshops and building a community—online and off—around this very concept. A yoga instructor, size-inclusive wellness advocate, and soon-to-be author, Sapora's self-care doctrine rejects the Instagram-filtered veneer that still pervades so much of the wellness industry. Instead, she suggests that in addition to the victories, we acknowledge and embrace the not-so-pretty moments we face in the pursuit of personal growth. Her bottom line: Even if the path ahead isn't always clear, resolve still has a funny way of getting us where we need to be.

This platform is very much built by her own story. "I used to live in a way where I strangled my own possibility in life and I didn't even know it," she says. "So if there is a woman out there who decides, 'I want more for my life. I'm going to figure this shit out and I'm going to hunker down because I deserve it.' If I can in some way facilitate that happening for her, then cool. I've done my job."

Did you know?

Kundalini yoga has been linked with lowered cortisol levels in saliva—a key marker of decreased stress (3).

Below, Sapora speaks candidly about the daily realities (and gratifications) of carving a new path in life, and how she's using her story to bring thousands of women together.

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On the moment that monumentally shifted her perspective…

"I was 37 years old and watching everybody experience life—I felt like I was literally just sitting in the sidelines of my own. Emotionally. Physically. I felt stuck and unhappy. I now see that resolve to live something different as a stubbornness in me that was like, 'We're done with this. You're going to do something else.' And I had no idea what that was going to be and I had no idea what it would look like. But I remember that I was ready for something to be different. I can look back at that now and I can see that that was the first time that I ever felt massive self-love.

"If you had asked me if that was self-love at the time, then I wouldn’t have said it was. But I've learned that it’s not always something that you can identify—a light bulb when it happens or it's sparkly and shiny and beautiful. Some of those biggest moments of growth, especially in the last year have been moments where I'm feeling something really painful—like, I’m putting a sports bra on and I start crying for no reason. And all of a sudden I realize, 'Oh my god, you’re feeling. You're not tapping out. You're not looking for a coping mechanism. You're not doing anything but existing right now. Hell yes, girl—you’re here! So cry all you want. Feel that shit.'"

On bucking a certain narrative…

"I think that when you talk to a plus size person, especially one who has been addressing her health and her wellness, you subconsciously want to hear about this 'before and after' in her life. You want to hear about how things were so terrible for her. And then when she lost weight, they all got better. Right? But that's diet culture. The sooner we stop playing into that story, the sooner we start breaking and dismantling the system that keeps us all in that place.

"You know, I don't have a particularly traumatizing moment as a plus size woman in the workforce. I am certain that I probably experienced some level of bias, but I never really noticed, whether that was because it wasn't overt or whether it was because it was just who I was. I lived a very defensive life to the point that my defensiveness was aggressive and it was assertive. And so I always felt a deep sense of responsibility to try harder."

"I always thought that I had to be this hard badass in order to be valuable. But when I started to really focus on my growth and journey, I started to realize that I am much softer than I had ever let myself be."

Did you know?

When we shift our sense of control inward, we tend to be much more resilient (3). (That's according to a study published earlier this year.)

On the exhausting cycle of external validation…

"I think there was a really great deal of my life that I wasn't going to let anybody tell me that I was any different than anybody else. And so I campaigned for myself. I tried harder, I fought louder. I had the best ideas. I worked the fastest, the hardest. I spent money buying accessories that I couldn't afford because I wanted to blend in and I couldn't get the clothes I wanted. I spent a lot of time trying to prove to people that I belonged in the room just like everybody else. And I think in doing that, I actually lost who I was.

"A couple of years ago I was in a relationship with someone and he turned to me and he said, 'Sapora, stop campaigning. I already know you're awesome. You don't have to keep telling me you're awesome. You just have to be awesome.' And I didn't get that. I didn’t get that the most powerful thing I can do is not to fight and prove my need to be seen, but just to own who I am without extra fanfare."

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"To me, it means having the courage to slog through your own shit again and again and again. Because at the end of the day, that’s in service of the highest version of you."

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On the small (and sometimes uncomfortable) ways we commit to ourselves…

"Whenever I teach or mentor people, sometimes I hold a tape measure and I say, 'Everybody wants to get from zero to a foot, but nobody wants to go inch by inch.' Then I say, 'Everybody wants to go from zero to one inch, but you have to go through all the little millimeters first.' So [growth] is not going from zero to 12—it’s the willingness to go to 0.01 to 0.02 to 0.03. It’s all these tiny unglamorous choices that get us there.

"It can be as small as: When I wake up in the morning, do I pick up my phone and do I go on social media right away or do I close my eyes and breathe for one minute? Do I give myself the gift of my own presence before I allow anything else to come into my space?"

"I'm 40, but I'm more hopeful and powerful and less scared than I've ever been before. I'm proud of the fact that I saw my life going in a direction that I didn't like, and I changed it. That takes a lot of balls and that's pretty cool."

Did you know?

Human connection has a powerful effect on our mind and body: Studies show that meaningful social relationships can bolster our immune system (5), helps us heal faster (6), and strengthen self-esteem (7).

On the power of bringing women together…

"The first time I ever ran an event, I stood in front of 75 women who had showed up to be in a space that I created. [I remember thinking], 'This is so fucking weird—like, what is this?!' [laughs] And I remember asking everybody to close their eyes and breathe in and out together. And that's all that it was—just a moment of complete presence. And I was like, wow okay, something just happened. Maybe you’re doing something right here.

"When you're a solopreneur and you work for yourself day in and day out, you never get those moments. You are attached to the inner workings of your business, especially if you're at a point where you can't hire 10 people to help you—you literally do everything yourself. And that's where I am. So it's helpful for me to take a step back and think about the people who slide into my DMs, the people who show up at my workshops, or the people who just write me and say, 'This is what your writing did for me.' The biggest joy I ever get is if I'm able to connect with people in real life. That’s the greatest feeling ever."

References:
1) Ford, B. Q., Lam, P., John, O. P., & Mauss, I. B. (2018). The psychological health benefits of accepting negative emotions and thoughts: Laboratory, diary, and longitudinal evidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
2) García-Sesnich, J. N., Flores, M. G., Ríos, M. H., & Aravena, J. G. (2017). Longitudinal and Immediate Effect of Kundalini Yoga on Salivary Levels of Cortisol and Activity of Alpha-Amylase and Its Effect on Perceived Stress. International journal of yoga.
3) Buddelmeyer, H., & Powdthavee, N. (2016). Can having internal locus of control insure against negative shocks? Psychological evidence from panel data. Journal of economic behavior & organization.
4) Seppala, Dr. Emma. Connectedness & Health: The Science of Social Connection. (2014). Retrieved from the Stanford Medicine Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.

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